Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Coltan, Congo coffins?

Some time ago, I promised to my friend Paqui to comment some things about how the irresponsible consumption of mobiles had, has and will have, if nothing stops it, its repercusions in the environment and so far they don't seem to be perceptible to this very well-off society. I don't properly know the reasons, but maybe because of comfort, indifference or another unknown question, many people don't want to speak about some subjects because they say they go bad, but, as somebody said once: no to think in what you go bad is what hurts you.

From time to time you can see ads to change your "old" mobile for free. For sellers it will be a good thing but not for the environment. One thing annoys me: when somebody says to me that my mobile is as heavy as a brick..... go to hell!! Let's continue because I'm getting angry....

According to figures in Spain in August 2006, the mean of mobiles updating was one a year to the 59% of population and in that way, we accumulated a mean of 3.7 mobiles per person. Respect to recycling the device, it is the best option to get rid of it, but we have to take into account that we need energy and we still depend the most on fossil fuels, so you continue polluting.... A lot of plastics are impossible to be recycled because they are polluted by some of the metals that the mobile contains, but it is a minor problem because what it's really important is to recover half-precious and strategic metals. So let's see, what's the relation between this and Congo? That among those half-precious metals is coltan.

Coltan is a compound which presents a lot of resistance against heat and that extends batteries life. 80% of the coltan comes from Africa and the worst is that it comes from high conflictivity places as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last figures I've got, say that more than 10.000 miners are working under subhuman conditions to extract coltan clay. In 2003, in response to several reports on injustice, corruption and violence, the most important mobile makers got measures to prevent that the coltan they used didn't come from Congo (in this way, I sent an e-mail to Nokia and nobody answered... did it get lost?). If I haven't misunderstood, 27 companies were accused of importing coltan from Congo, it is not strange.... the mobile makers want to reduce costs at any price, I suppose, and it seems that what it's happening in Congo is not a big deal... The question is that they can sell cheaper and get more benefits.

According to what I'm seeing I understand that the message is: we need progress at any price. What the hell does it mean for you that mines are run by guerrillas? The question is that belgian, dutch and german companies are feeding the subject. Some time ago BBC reported that in some places of Congo, childrens and farmers were obliged to work in mines, but it's not only a human rights problem but also an environmental one. As we know, miner industry is very agressive not only by sight but also in this case Kauri Bieja and Okapi National Parks have been invaded, destroying ecosystems and sensitive elephants and gorillas populations. In 2003 companies as IBM, HP, Compaq, Nokia, Ericsson or Siemens were involved. As you can see gold, oil and water would be comparable to the coltan because from a mobile, the internet or sending a rocket to the space... the coltan is necessary.

Another alternatives to the coltan have been taken into account, alternatives like copper... but it seems not to be as effective as the coltan, or litium, which is monopolized by two companies so it supposes high prices, and in that way, we have to remember that mobile makers only want to cut down costs....

Well, four things to finish:
  1. Try to take profit of your mobile as long as possible.
  2. Recycle your mobile when you want to get rid of it. Here an example.
  3. Environmental costs should be reflected in the final price of the devices.
  4. Watch the following video... something much better than my words.


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